Tips for Talking with a Loved One About Depression, Anxiety or other Mental Illness

Starting a conversation with a loved one who you believe needs treatment for a health condition can be challenging. When that condition involves mental health illnesses, such as depression or anxiety, it can be especially difficult. While people generally wouldn’t object if you encourage them to better manage an illness like diabetes, their reaction may be different if you try to talk with them about mental illness.

In the Mental Health First Aid program,  we encourage people to be gentle and patient when talking with a loved one. Often it takes time for a person to realize to seek help and make some changes that will be better for them and those around them in the long run. If you give them some time to process your conversation before talking with them again, it’s much more likely that they will be receptive to the idea.

How to Break the Ice

One of the most effective ways to start a conversation with a family member or friend about mental health treatment for conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and others is to ask questions. Here are some examples:

  • I’m concerned about you. Can we talk about what you are going through? And if you prefer not to talk with me, who would you be most comfortable talking with?
  • I want you to know that I care about you and will always listen if there are life challenges you are struggling with and want to discuss. Are there things you want to talk about now?
  • Can I help start a conversation with your friend/parents/significant other etc. about what you’re going through right now?
  • I’m asking because I care about you, and, have you thought about harming yourself? (which is a question to ask if you suspect a person is considering suicide.)
  • For most problems that we face, there are people, often called peers, who have gone through the same thing. Can I help you find someone who can share their experience with mental illness?

Of course, listening attentively as the person answers your question is critical, as is following through if they take you up on your offer to help connect them with mental health resources.

Key Considerations as the Conversation Takes Place

There are a number of things to keep in mind about talking with a person who you suspect may need mental health treatment. For example, it’s helpful to do some research in advance regarding how and where they can get treatment in case they ask. Also, you should initiate the conversation at a time and place that the person feels that they can open up to you.

As you talk with them, be sure to discuss the issue in a way that is age appropriate. Throughout the conversation, you should look for cues that may indicate they are struggling to understand you. If so, slow down or repeat things as needed. And, you should have a plan for what you will do if they volunteer that they have had suicidal thoughts, including transporting them to an emergency room or other appropriate care provider or calling 911 if you feel that a harmful action is imminent.

You are Doing the Right Thing

If you feel that someone is suffering from depression, anxiety or any form of mental illness, your willingness to talk with them about it may be just the encouragement they need to seek help. Don’t hesitate to start the conversation. To learn more about our services, contact us online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We have centers in the north side Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.